They had taken lessons, here in the United States, on how to fly a plane. How to land, that didn’t interest them. On that Tuesday morning they didn’t face the kind of airport security we have known since then. The day was so clear they needed no special navigational skills to find their targets. The people going to work at the World Trade Center had no inkling of doom, even if the towers had been much less successfully targeted a few years ago. All was serene. Until…
Back in 1949, E.B. White, the author of such charming children’s books as Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, had written in Here Is New York, “A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.”
Today our vulnerability would seem to be less from suicidal zealots than from unmanned missiles or, even more likely, from Nature itself. A Nature that, by our own heedlessness we have turned into an ever more dangerous avenger, may yet destroy us through drowning, as the rising waters of Hurricane Irene so recently warned.
Nature’s threat is one we can’t seem to unite against, as to do so goes against our immediate comfort and profits. The human agents behind 9/11were easier to attack, or so we thought. We didn’t quite know just who al-Qaeda was, or where it was, but we conveniently located the threat in Saddam Hussein of Iraq, which is definitely where it was not. Kill or be killed was the overriding lesson we drew from 9/11, and we go on killing and being killed as a result. We never seriously entertained the alternative that a massive economic and humanitarian effort might have done more to subdue the hostility that the terrorists fed on. Never mind that we finally killed Obama bin Laden, the malevolent instigator-in-chief, the epidemic of killing and counter-killing does not die out.
Will it ever? Will we ever overcome our murderous differences and come together in the realization that as we keep populating this limited globe of Earth, drawing on its resources and infesting its air and water, we are hastening an inevitable doomsday? We can’t enough of us fit on Mars, even if that planet could be made habitable. Humanity needs to embark on a great project to conserve our earthly habitat. But the chances for that look worse than dim.
Meantime we again remember those who perished that day. We consecrate the ground on which those buildings stood. And we build there anew, defying the destroyers to come at us again. We affirm hope. Pointing out that New York had “a certain clear priority” among the world’s targets, E.B. White further noted that it was also home to the United Nations, then a-building, and he wrote: “The city at last illustrates both the perfect dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.”
If only. That bright-dawning September Tuesday of 2001 is to be remembered, as is the gallant response of firefighters and others who braved death facing unbelievable disaster. But there is nothing to celebrate.
— Henrik Krogius, Editor
Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News